Sunday, August 16, 2009

Letter to the Book Chook - Getting Ready for School

Dear Chook,

My son is going to start school soon. What things does he need to know for school? I want to help him get ready. I don't want him behind the other kids.

from Jaden's Mother

Dear Jaden's Mother,

It's an exciting time for you and Jaden, and a little scary too. Jaden will meet lots of new people, make new friends, have new experiences, and continue along the pathway of learning that began when he was born. He'll be away from you for many hours each day, and that can be a wrench, and take some getting used to.

Going to "big" school is usually the start of more formal learning for our children, and naturally we want the very best for them. Many schools have programs that help ease the transition between home or preschool, and "big" school. This allows Kindergarten teachers to get to know you and your child. More importantly, it allows you and Jaden to become comfortable in this new environment. If your school doesn't have such a program, it would be a great idea to go to the school, meet his teacher-to-be, and ask if you can look around. While there, I would make sure Jaden sees the boy's bathroom, and knows how to use it, turn the tap on and off to wash his hands etc.

Maybe that sounds overly practical, but many of the problems I saw as a Kindergarten teacher were just that. There were kids who didn't know how to take off their shoes, jumpers etc, nor where to put them when they did. There were kids who couldn't handle the lunch they'd been given eg how to take a cheese slice out of its wrapper, or take the lid off a drink bottle. Some mums had gone to a lot of trouble to pack cute snacks, but forgot that they'd always done the unwrapping until now. So my first advice is just to think through the sorts of things that will likely happen, or could possibly happen, in Jaden's day, and make plans for them. Things like labeling his belongings, and making sure he knows how to get to and from school may very well prevent hassles and heart-ache.

I don't believe in "teaching" kids before they go to school. I do passionately believe in reading, playing, discussing, singing, creating, experimenting and experiencing together. If Jaden's been lucky enough to attend a great pre-school, he has probably learnt so much already, through structured play. If he hasn't, he's probably learnt so much from watching you, seeing what you do, copying it, trying it for himself. Encourage him to be independent. Can he take responsibility for some chores? Can he use use scissors sensibly? Does he know how to curb his impulses, and wait his turn? Those skills will help him adjust to school life.

When you visit Jaden's new school, have a chat with his teacher. Ask her what she would expect of Jaden when he starts school. Look around the classroom, and have a friendly chat with her. This will give you some idea of what the school expects. Remember, you have choices. If you don't think Jaden's needs will be met in that school/classroom, there are alternatives. Just because a child is a certain chronological age, doesn't meant they are ready for school. Homeschooling is an option, or another year in preschool, or a different education system. Find out as much as you can about all of them, so you can make an informed choice.

Once Jaden does start school, I wouldn't worry too much about comparisons with other kids. Children reach a developmental stage when they are ready to read, and that's when they start reading. Keep in contact with Jaden's teacher, listen to Jaden, have his friends over to your house so you can get to know them. And keep going with reading, playing, discussing, singing etc. Because in this Book Chook's opinion, you are the very best person to help your child learn in this way!

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